Labour Education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn signed a USI-written pledge which binds him to opposing and campaigning against “any new form of third level fees including student loans, graduate taxes and any further increase in the Student Contribution.” The pledge, which Deputy Quinn signed outside the front gate of Trinity College, further mandates Labour to use their position within Dail Eireann to protect the Higher Education Maintenance Grant from any and all cuts and tackle graduate unemployment.
The signing was attended by USI President Gary Redmond, USI Education Officer Colm Murphy as well as TCDSU President Nikolai Trigoub-Rotnem and Education Officer Jen Fox. Speaking about the importance of ensuring that vulnerable groups in society like students are not targeted for further cuts, Quinn said that it was important that the country come through these difficult times as a society, not an economy and that people could not be unnecessarily bruised or damaged by the expensive corrections that have to be made to the economy.
Quinn said that there was no danger of a U-turn being done on this pledge, as has been the case with the Lib Dems in England. “This is a commitment to the renewal of the Irish economy,” said Quinn. “The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs have stated very clearly that increasing the number of graduates participating in the Irish University system by up to 70% as well as increasing innovation and research is the way forward and that is predicated on having a proper education system.”
Dismissing the notion of this pledge creating a deal-breaking issue between Labour and potential coalition partners, Fine Gael, Quinn said that everyone was committed to ensuring that people are given the opportunity to participate in the education system. Fine Gael had accused Quinn and Labour of flip flopping on the issue of an increased student contribution, an accusation that was firmly denied by Quinn at the signing.
“I’ve recognised that students have been making a contribution through the Student Service Charge and that’s why we’re freezing it at €1500,” Quinn stated to The University Times. “It has been decided by the outgoing Government to increase it to €2000 and to introduce a €200 fee to do post-leaving cert courses.We think that barrier at the entrance to education is simply too much. When students enter higher level education they invariably become high earners and pay tax.”
Recognising the increased financial burden created by any increase in the student contribtution, Quinn said that he wanted to keep the gates of higher level institutions open to as many people as possible and that this would become increasingly difficult in the event of any further monetary charges being imposed on current and prospective university students.
USI President Gary Redmond said that the Labour Party’s pledge was a “progressive step forward” and that the student body was warming to the Labour Party as a result of their commitment to reducing the student contribution by €500 and changing its name back to “the student service charge”, which Redmond believes is significant in that it more accurately describes what students should be paying for, namely services